“Every once in a while, someone comes along like that, someone who is the full package,” said Brian Mitchell, a former all-pro kick returner for the Redskins who is an analyst for CSN Washington and a sports-talk radio host on WTEM (980 AM). “Say what you want about Michael Jordan, but he knew how to handle himself both in an interview and on the basketball court. I’m not saying this kid will be Michael Jordan, but because of his ultimate intelligence, he can be at that level.”
Indeed, so new is this feeling, so complex is this dynamic, so deep is the history, so intense is the longing, so young is this superstar — that it is possible Griffin himself doesn’t even realize how much he matters here.
‘They don’t see color’
What do Griffin’s parents see when they look at their son?
Not long after April’s NFL draft — where the Redskins chose Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor University, with the second overall pick — an announcer on the ESPN program the Griffins were watching in their living room in Copperas Cove, Tex., referred to Washington as “Chocolate City.” That nickname, spawned by a 1975 hit song by Parliament, still resonates in D.C., despite it not being a majority-black city any longer. In central Texas, though? Not so much.
“I said, ‘What does that mean?’” said Jacqueline Griffin, Robert’s mother. “My husband started laughing. We love our race, don’t get me wrong. We wouldn’t change it for the world. But I had no idea that Washington was called Chocolate City. I was totally oblivious to that. So was my son. We just don’t talk about race in here.”
Jackie and Robert Griffin Jr. were both New Orleans natives who enlisted in the Army as teenagers, doing tours of duty in (among other places) Okinawa, Japan — where their son, Robert III, was born — and Korea before retiring from the Army and settling in Copperas Cove, just outside Fort Hood.
From the beginning, they chose to raise their three children — Robert has two older sisters — to be largely color-blind.
“They can thrive in any environment they’re in, because they don’t see color — which is something we really strive for in our lives,” Jacqueline Griffin said. “It’s not about somebody’s race — it’s about humanity. And God wants to love everybody, no matter their background. I don’t want them to see color. It’s not about that. Any experience we had dealing with racism, we always told our kids, ‘You learn from that. Don’t do that to others.’ ”